COLUMBIA — Players come, players go. It’s college athletics.
At South Carolina, it’s program-changing quarterbacks come, and program-changing quarterbacks go.
Gunner Stockton, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country and the highest-rated QB that has ever committed to the Gamecocks, decommitted from USC on Tuesday. He did not announce a new commitment, nor say that USC was out of the running for eventually landing his services, but he also didn’t say that USC was still on his list.
"Back in August, I made the decision to commit to the university, program and staff. A lot has changed since that time, and I feel that I should re-evaluate my situation," Stockton wrote in a statement. "I want to thank Connor Shaw for all of his love, support and understanding."
Stockton has one more year at Rabun County (Ga.) High. Every school in the country still has until the December signing period to woo him.
Yet Stockton's close relationship with Mike Bobo and his family were big reasons why he chose USC, and Bobo is no longer at USC, having taken a position at Auburn. Stockton, as he said in his statement, is also close with Shaw, playing for his brother Jaybo Shaw at Rabun County and idolizing Shaw as a youngster (Stockton wears No. 14, as Shaw did).
It’s been a tumultuous two months at USC, with coach Will Muschamp fired on Nov. 15 and Shane Beamer hired on Dec. 5. Beamer retained Bobo as his OC, but two days after Bobo’s renewed contract was announced, Auburn called.
Bobo is expected to get a significant raise from the $1.2 million he was making at USC and Beamer told him if that was what he wanted to do, he should do it. Stockton is refusing interviews so it isn’t known if Bobo’s departure impacted his decision.
Whatever the case, as it stood Tuesday, USC was without a commitment from one of the best high-school prospects it’s ever scouted, and also without another. When Stockton committed, he bumped to second Stephen Garcia as the top QB prospect to ever pick the Gamecocks. Garcia was just ahead of Ryan Hilinski.
Hilinski is also gone, having entered the transfer portal on Dec. 30. Beamer was asked if Hilinski could change his mind, and Beamer confirmed he’s exchanged messages with Hilinski, yet sources close to the situation have told The Post and Courier that a return is unlikely.
But the fourth-highest QB prospect USC has landed is still around, and projected to start. Luke Doty, South Carolina’s 2019 Mr. Football, started the Gamecocks’ final two games last year in lieu of Collin Hill, the graduate transfer who followed Bobo from Colorado State.
A year ago, USC was restocking the depth in its quarterback room with Hill. Jake Bentley had transferred while Dakereon Joyner was going to resume a transition to wide receiver that had been waylaid in the 2019 season.
But Hilinski, who had started 11 games, was returning along with Jay Urich and walk-ons Corbett Glick and Connor Jordan. With Hill and Doty joining, the Gamecocks figured to be set at the position for a while.
These days, they’re back to a year ago, with less numbers.
With Hill declining his sixth year of eligibility to begin training for a chance at professional football and Hilinski transferring, the Gamecocks are down to three QBs. Urich took a medical redshirt due to a bum shoulder while Glick quit in March.
That leaves Doty, Jordan — who hasn’t taken a snap in either of his two years with the team — and true freshman Colten Gauthier, who enrolled last week.
That naturally led to questions for Beamer about the position. He didn’t immediately have any definite answers.
“(Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield) and the offensive staff, we met this morning as a full staff. The recruits that are out there, potential transfers, going through every single position trying to figure out where we are,” Beamer said. “Quarterback’s no different than any other position. Got to be the right dynamic if we add to that room.”
That leaves any recruits Beamer could add by the Feb. 5 signing day, or the transfer portal. It stands to reason, just from actual playing time, that Doty will enter spring practice as the starter unless Beamer finds an unmined gem in the transfer portal.
Doty took over for Hill at halftime of the Missouri game and started the final two games of the season. He was given sparse chances at receiver and QB before starting (on the field mostly to run) and finished 43-of-71 passing for 405 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed 41 times for 149 yards, which was knocked down to 91 yards when sacks were figured in.
It was learn-as-you-go and there were some bright moments tempered with rougher ones. Doty spoke of the curve before last year’s season finale.
“I think the biggest thing is just making sure I’ve got my feet in the ground when I go to throw,” Doty said. “Making sure my eyes are in the right place and I’m progressing in the way that I should. Really just staying calm in the pocket.”
He attended a football camp hosted by the Bentley family last week in Lexington and had shed the long locks that he grew out all year, returning to the buzzcut he sported as a Mr. Football winner at Myrtle Beach High. He’s been training and conditioning while welcoming any competition that may pop up, as he only wants to win.
Gauthier stands 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds and threw for over 6,500 yards in 34 games at Hebron Christian (Ga.) Academy. He rushed for 17 touchdowns alongside the 61 he gained through the air.
Beamer already credited him as a leader a coach can build a program around and that Gauthier did his best to recruit other players to come to USC with him. Doty has the experience but each will be learning a new playbook.
Beamer’s task is to find others who can learn the same and give the Gamecocks options. They don’t want to have to keep re-stocking the QB room every season.
Or replace what were rated to be program-changing recruits.